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Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Following the hon. Lady's meeting with representatives of the high commission during her recent visit, was she confident that they grasped the real situation? On having a meeting with the high commission when I was last in Zimbabwe, some four years ago, I was extremely worried to discover that its motivation then was to build relationships with Zanu-PF. Rather than wanting to work with the Movement for Democratic Change in an effort to find a political dynamic that could bring about change, it seemed to be obsessed with the ruling party. It seemed to have no grasp of the developing situation.
Kate Hoey: To be fair, things have changed a lot. The previous high commissioner was extremely outspokenso much so that Mugabe continually threatened him. I have not had much to do with his successor, so I would not want to comment. The embassy assured us that it was doing what it could to provide support for homeless people, but the scale of the problem is huge and it is working under very difficult circumstances.
I want to refer to the case of Alice Phiri, whom I managed to get taken off the plane literally as she was about to be sent to Harare. Last June, she was taken off a plane and allowed to stay, or so we thought. However, once the decision was taken in November to lift suspensions, she was carted off, before any of us knew, and deported. We have evidence that she was detained and beaten up, with all sorts of things being done to her. It makes me angry. The Government knew that representations were made and there was a belief that no one would be deported. Suddenly, there was a written statement that the ban had been lifted and, before we knew it, a lot of people had been sent back. I am sure that this has also happened with some other countries.
The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister today have talked about relationships with the MDC, saying that we are in constant touch with it and that it knows what is going on. I find that incredible, because the MDC has made its position clear: it does not want anyone to be deported. I do not know where these conversations are going on, but Morgan Tsvangirai has made it clear that he does not want these people to be deported. You cannot be clearer than that. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayoone of the bravest people in the region, in contrast to the Anglican Bishop of Harare, a Zanu-PF supporterhas stood out against everything that has happened in Zimbabwe. He writes that the
Within the group held in detention centres, there may be those who were not MDC activists or were not tortured before they came here. There may be those who have fears about going back but who may not tick all the
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Home Office boxes. However, they will be at risk. That is why the only solution has to be to go back to the pre-November situation. Things have got so much worse. It is unbelievable that the Government cannot go back to that.
I hope that the period of reflection that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have had over the weekend and after today's statementI appreciate that, for whatever reason, Ministers sometimes do not like to look as if they have made a U-turnwill mean that, in the lead-up to the G8, the deportations will be stopped until such time as things improve in Zimbabwe.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): In his statement today, the Home Secretary said that a blanket suspension of all removals to any country could only encourage those seeking to get around our controls for reasons that have nothing to do with political activities or fears of prosecution. I am not arguing for that; I am merely playing devil's advocate. Although the hon. Lady is making a strong case, does she accept that a blanket suspension the unintended consequences described by the Home Secretary?
Kate Hoey: There was a blanket suspension and the numbers did not go up. The numbers that the Home Secretary did not quote, but which an Opposition Member did, showed that the figures went down. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view. The Home Secretary talked about messages being sent around the world that every asylum seeker could come to Britain. However, the message being sent is that we have a sort of doublespeak, where the Foreign Secretary rightly condemns what is happening in Zimbabwe and the Home Secretarydespite talking about human rights and saying that it is a dreadful countryis still sending people back. That gives succour to all those who want to pretend that things in Zimbabwe are not too bad.
I recognise that I have been lucky to have had longer than I would have had in a normal Adjournment debate, so I will conclude with a plea to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and all those who will be at the G8 meetings in Gleneagles. If Africa, making poverty history and the poorest people in the world are to be discussed, what has happened in Zimbabwe has to be at the top of the list. If the representatives of the African Union and President Mbeki will not even say that what is happening in Zimbabwe is wrong, or even unfortunatelet alone condemn itand if they continually try to block every attempt in the United Nations on human rights issues, how can they be seen as world statesmen who will seriously discuss ending poverty in Africa?
My constituency is multicultural and very tolerant of asylum seekers. My constituents want to help people who are really in fear of their lives, but if they are to be asked to pay out more for debt relief, changing the trade balance and the rest of the agenda, they will expect that money to be spent properly. We do not expect to see the South African Government behave as they have. The only reason that helicopters flew over Bulawayo intimidating people as they were taken from their homes was because the South African Government had supplied the spare parts just a few weeks earlier. The helicopters had previously been grounded because no
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one would supply them. Yet South Africa's president will be at the meetings at the weekend speaking up for the New Partnership for Africa's Development and all the good governance ideas. That will be a sham unless we face up to Zimbabwe.
My experience in Zimbabwe was both numbing and humbling. It made me determined that we will get the message out. I know that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House want to support the brave people of Zimbabwe, and I hope that the Prime Minister will take that issue on at the G8.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the Minister for letting me contribute to the debate. Together with the statement from the Home Secretary this afternoon, this debate has done Africa a service. In this debate, there is no selfish interest in the House or in the country. In a way, it is a rerun of the debates about the unilateral declaration of independence in Southern Rhodesia and liberation in southern Africa.
We each have our past, and part of mine was visiting El Salvador at the time of the civil war, but even there the oligarchy never did to their people what has been done in Zimbabwe in the past seven months and, in particular, in the past seven weeks. The question with which the Minister must try to help the House todayI hope that the Prime Minister will address it on future occasionsis what is it about conditions today in Zimbabwe that makes it possible to carry out expulsions from this country and deportations to that country and its neighbours, when they were not possible in October last year, only eight months ago?
I asked a question in January about Crispen Kulinji, who was on the fast track to deportation. Three times, Members of Parliament have stopped that man being deported to Malawi. It is not that the people who advise Ministers in the Home Office and the Foreign Office do not understand the position. They do, but they are under some greater pressure to meet the targets. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) produced the figures cited by the hon. Member for Vauxhall, to whom I pay personal tribute for her persistence and the detail in which she has reported to the House. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister, if not tonight then by written statement, what the numbers of Zimbabweans in this country would be at, say, Christmassix months' timeif the deportations were halted.
Are we talking about 500 people? A thousand people? I doubt that the figure is even that high. My constituency has an unemployment rate of about 1.5 per cent. In South Africa, the unemployment rate is probably about 40 per cent., and in Zimbabwe probably about 70 per cent. The fact that some people manage to find their way to this country now, in conditions probably worse than those after UDI, gives us a responsibility to hold back from trying to send them home where they are not welcome. As and when President Mugabe stops being President Mugabe, Zimbabwe will start to recover and people will start to go back voluntarily, as they did when the UDI situation came to an end.
I went to Zimbabwe twice after the one person, one vote system was introduced, once in a private capacity and once in a Commonwealth Parliamentary
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Association delegation with Guy Barnett, the then Member of Parliament for Greenwich. When we met President Mugabeor rather, Prime Minister Mugabe, as he was thenthere were problems in Matabeleland with what the fifth brigade, and also, I believe, some of the East Germans, had been doing. However, a combination of a good harvest and the development of the commercial sector and the social side of the country allowed people the prospect of hope. It is true that there were already the beginnings of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as we now know it to be, and problems with life expectancy, but at least those people had hope. The Churches could operate and opposition parties had reasonable freedom.
Since then, it has been sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. In those days there was a leadership code, and the only person who obeyed it was Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. All the rest were beginning to show signs of what Robert Mugabe is now accused of himselfof taking to himself what he should not be taking.
I hope that the South African high commission in London will invite Members of Parliament who are interested in this subject to South Africa house, so that we can have a round table discussion about how South Africa believes this growing problem can be tackled, for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe. If Zimbabwe goes on deteriorating as it is now, it will provide less hope for surrounding countries. South Africa may be much larger and more powerful, and some of its leadership traditions may be stronger, but Zimbabwe will still be a source of possible corruption in the area.
I hope that Crispen Kulinji will not be sent home, but if he or others are to be sent home, will the Minister assure the House that Members who have made representations will be told a week in advance and not have to pick up from the rumour mill that policies have been reversed and that someone has been picked up and is about to go instantly? I do not want another Thursday or Friday when I have to send a message to No. 10 Downing street asking the Prime Minister if he will bring together the Ministers from the Home Office and the Foreign Office to discuss the case in front of him. I am not saying that my intervention was the most important one, because I suspect that the hon. Member for Vauxhall was influential, and others, including the Liberal Democrats, have been helpful too. There is all-party agreement that the House needs to be involved when the Government intend to do something that is not supported anywhere in the House.
During the statement this afternoon, I mentioned the case of an opposition Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe who lost his cool in Parliament and got sentenced to a year's hard labour in jail. I am told that he has lost half his body weight and it would be interesting to hear from the Foreign Office whether it believes that Roy Bennett is really in that state and what representations it has heard about. Obviously, as he is not a UK citizen, there is no UK Government responsibility, but it would be interesting to hear what the Foreign Office had to say. We presume that his wife was cheated out of being successfully elected in his place at the last election, but that is beginning to broaden the subject beyond what the hon. Member for Vauxhall has asked the House to consider tonight.
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I say to the Minister, and through him, to the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, that this House, like many of the Church leaders who bravely and consistently spoke out during the years of the liberation struggle, expects this Governmentthe fact that they are Labour is interesting, but not importantwill hold to the British tradition of allowing those who seek refuge while their country is going through turmoil to have that refuge. My wife and I have in our house a young Zimbabwean student who was not sent back during the years of UDI. I do not want to see other people being sent back to Zimbabwe now.
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